New York Philharmonic Premieres HK Gruber’s Piano Concerto

Hi All. This fell off the blog for some reason. I am re-hosting it today. 


New York Philharmonic Premieres H.K. Gruber

New York Philharmonic

Photos: Chris Lee


Avery Fisher Hall, New York

January 7, 2017

By Christian Carey

Five Things to Love About the NY Phil’s January 7th Concert

  1. Kurt Weill’s Kleine Dreigroschenmusik (Little Threepenny Music) for Wind Ensemble: A truly charming work that also demonstrates the composer’s affinity for early jazz orchestration, Little Threepenny Music showed off the wind section of the Philharmonic at their very best, and it was wonderful to hear banjo in the mix. Mack the Knife alone is worth many three-pennies!
  2. Emmanuel Ax playing H.K. Gruber: As Ax himself admits (see video embed below), his training is classical, not jazz-oriented. That said, he acquitted himself well in the premiere of H.K. Gruber’s Piano Concerto, spinning swinging fistfuls of notes into the air at a nearly relentless pace with his characteristic musicality.
  3. H.K. Gruber’s Piano Concerto: It is audaciously orchestrated, cast for a large orchestra with tons of contrapuntal imitation thickening the texture — yet somehow the piano comes through in brilliant fashion. There are elements of Weill’s early jazz, notably “shimmy music” from his opera Tales from the Vienna Woods. But the piece contains an even more pronounced strain of modern jazz: one could imagine the late Eric Dolphy fitting right in, taking a seat among the winds.
  4. Thoughtful programming: H.K. Gruber has performed works by Kurt Weill as a chansonnier. Schubert’s early Second Symphony hasn’t been performed since Kurt Masur was Music Director of the NY Phil (I saw that performance too; more about it momentarily).
  5. Alan Gilbert conducting Franz Schubert: When I heard Masur’s performance of Schubert’s Second Symphony in 1994, I was convinced that the teenage composer had the capacity to be a proto-Brahms with high Romantic spirits. Gilbert’s interpretation of the piece stands in stark contrast. It is much quicker, putting the strings through fleet-footed paces and distilling Schubert’s admiration for Mozart into each of the work’s movements. I wouldn’t want to be without either rendition, and am grateful to have heard them both. That said, January 7th’s masterful performance is just going to make me miss Alan Gilbert at the helm of the NY Phil even more.


A Clear Midnight: Bleckmann and Hülsmann

Pianist Julia Hülsmann and vocalist Theo Bleckmann join forces on A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill and America, a new recording for ECM Records. Joined by trumpeter and flugelhornist Tom Arthurs, bassist Marc Muellbauer, and drummer Heinrich Köbberling, they present renditions of Weill’s later songs alongside Hülsmann’s settings of poems by Walt WhitmanIn addition to lesser known examples from the Weill canon, there are some familiar compositions here, such as “Mack the Knife” and “Alabama Song.” However, all of the music is rendered with a fresh approach.

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Although he has appeared on two of Meredith Monk’s New Series CDs, this is Bleckmann’s first foray on ECM as a jazz singer. His imaginative use of the voice features percussive effects, multiphonics, and fluid vocalise. Hülsmann is equally creative in her approach, pacing harmonic changes to allow for spacious, even static, stretches. These are complemented by rapid solo passages and occasional punctuations played inside the piano.

Both Muellbauer and Köbberling are attentive musical partners and a crackerjack rhythm section, interacting with Hülsmann (and Bleckmann) in intricate exchanges.  Arthurs supplies altissimo flourishes aplenty. But he also serves as the lyrical backbone of the recording, crafting long-lined solos with a vocal quality to them. A Clear Midnight is an unconventional take on Kurt Weill’s music. However, its considerable beauty often lies in its idiosyncrasies.

This week, Hülsmann’s trio and Bleckmann (alas, no Arthurs) play three shows in support of the CD, two at Neue Gallerie Café Sabarsky on April 16th and 17th and another on the 18th at An Die Musik Live in Baltimore.